It may seem counterintuitive, but the majority of breathing problems that we experience and the risk of “invisible” toxic exposures to our lungs come from being cooped up in the house, rather than getting out in the cool, fresh air.
An allergy is a hypersensitivity disorder of the immune system. It’s a chronic, inflammatory condition with triggers specific to the individual. Typical triggers include dust and dust mites, dander from the hair of cats and dogs, certain fabrics and smoke from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. Unfortunately, when we spend a great deal of time at home, we are exposed to these triggers for a longer period.
People suffering from an allergy experience red watery eyes, itching, nasal congestion or runny nose, hives, eczema or even asthma attacks. Fevers are absent, which enables you to distinguish these symptoms from a cold.
Initial protection can be nasal antihistamines to open the breathing passages and give symptomatic relief, but when seasonal allergies become chronic, the best approach is to consult an allergist for diagnosis and allergy shots (providing remission of symptoms over time).
Asthma is a disease involving the airways to and from the lungs, and asthma attacks may occur more frequently in the winter by staying indoors for longer periods of time. We’re exposed to triggers such as pet dander, dust mites, smoke and mold. For others, being exposed to blasts of cold air triggers it.
When inhaling a trigger, tubes carrying air from our lungs tighten, constrict and fill with mucus. The lining of the tube walls become swollen and inflamed. This causes wheezing as one struggles to breathe, coughing and chest tightness.
Prevention tips include keeping your home cool and dry, eliminating mites and mold. Run the exhaust fan when cooking and the bathroom fan when tub soaking or showering. Consider a home humidifier, which has been thoroughly cleaned out. Use your inhaler half an hour prior to going outside. The bronchodilator will relax and open the airways outdoors, make sure to always have it with you.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
As cold weather rolls in or as power outages occur, furnaces, fireplaces and heating devices are revved up for use. When improperly functioning, these heat sources can emit an odorless, colorless, tasteless poison – carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide causes its toxicity by combining with hemoglobin in the blood (at a much faster rate than oxygen could) forming carboxyhemoglobin. This prevents your blood from carrying and releasing essential oxygen to the body’s tissues.
Symptoms of overexposure include shortness of breath, nausea, confusion, dizziness, headaches, blurred vision, fatigue and loss of consciousness. Exposure while sleeping can easily lead to fatalities. At high concentrations, carbon monoxide causes death within only a few minutes.
Administering 100% oxygen or hyperbaric oxygen therapy are the two available treatments for carbon monoxide poisoning by ridding carbon monoxide from the hemoglobin, rendering normal levels of oxygen to the body.
Prevention is better than treatment and can be done simply by having carbon monoxide detectors in the home (or tent when camping), inspecting furnaces or wood-burning stoves yearly, running heaters in ventilated areas and having generators outside the home at a distance.
Needless to say, never run your car in a closed space and have a door open to the outside if the car is garaged and idling. Likewise, portable generators and fuel-burning space heaters should not be run in confined spaces.
Pneumonia is an infection of bacteria or viruses in the lung with congestion, fluid accumulation, a cough, fever and breathing stuggles. Other symptoms include green mucus, panting, chills, rapid heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and weakness.
Winter spurs pneumonia occurring since cold air boosts mucus production along with an increase in mucus thickness. Inhaled particles are then cleared only with difficulty. Thick mucus presents in the nose as well contributing to nasal congestion and stuffiness, further posing difficulty in removing foreign substances like bacteria and viruses.
Furthermore, when lungs are exposed to cold air, histamine is released which can cause wheezing in people with asthma. People with heart disease, diabetes and cancer are more susceptible to pneumonia as well.